Writing. This one word can evoke extreme emotions among students and adults. People, unfortunately, can sometimes see writing as they do math; They think they are either a natural or they are not.
As a child, we gain these insights based on our experiences. Some believe they do not have anything that they view as important enough to share, some have not found their voice yet, some are nervous to share their thoughts, while some only associate writing with academics. As children grow older, some will still see themselves as “non-writers,” even into adulthood.
I think writing is more than putting a pencil to paper or typing words on a screen. Writing is one of the most solid approaches to practice and fully engage in critical thinking. As you write, you are constantly trying to find the best words, anecdotes, and analogies to bring your thoughts to life in the way you see them in your brain. For example, on one blog post, I may spend several hours at night creating a graphic, organizing my thoughts, revising, deleting, and re-reading; While on other occasions, I have words that ignite my brain like a spark and I am unstoppable for 30 minutes.
Moreover, by sharing my work with others, I can get feedback to see what resonated with people, who relates to my ideas, or who sees things differently and why. All of these facets of the writing process helps myself and other writers out there become better at their practice while becoming all-around better thinkers.
Through my own process, I have developed a passion for helping students see writing differently, too. Here are some tips I have used in the classroom that have worked well with students from elementary, middle school, and beyond:
1. Be a writing role model: Write on a blog, website, or another forum
“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert
In my opinion, this is non-negotiable. In my experience, this has also been one of the most influential factors in building writing credibility and importance in my classroom.
When we think about reading teachers, for example, many rightfully assume that reading teachers love reading, read for fun, and are knowledgeable readers. But, when we think of writing teachers, often the focus is, “Can the teacher teach writing well?” I believe that in order to coach other writers, you must be a writer yourself. This does not mean you need to be a published author or to have written a book. However, I do encourage teachers to begin writing on a blog, website, or another forum. Once you start writing regularly yourself, you will understand how difficult and scary the process can be at first. We expect kids to be able to write without fear, yet we forget how deeply personal and frightening it can be. Through this experience, your newfound awareness will help you relate to your students.
Additionally, I loved sharing my website with my students and the growth I made as a writer. I shared with them true stories about my writing life. Here are some of the stories I share:
- I always loved to write as a kid in my journal, but I was terrified to share my thoughts with anyone, yet alone the world
- I thought to be a true writer, you had to be an author of a book
- I created my first Xanga blog in 5th grade, but I never shared my name because I was scared people would not like what I had to say
- I met my first published author in college; She was the first person I shared a personal piece of writing with and was the person who, without knowing, gave me the inspiration to write publicly
- It was not until I was a teacher that I discovered my niche; I would write a blog for other educators and share my journey.
- I constantly evolve and change as a writer. My voice as a writer has changed even in the last two years. With each blog post, I gain more comfort and confidence
2. Have thoughtful conversations about writing to break down barriers and inspire
“The desire to write grows through writing.” – Desiderius Erasmus
Through opening myself and my writing to my students, I then see my students do the same for me. Due to this, I cannot tell you how many personal writing pieces students have sent me. Students will send me digital copies of their work with comments such as, “Ms. Welty, will you look at my piece and give me some suggestions?”
Relationships with students have grown stronger and writing becomes more than just an assigned task – It is simply what we do!
Over time, you will see that students will be more real with you with their writing. This allows you to break down barriers on writing, their potential fears, and to give you a chance to inspire. You will find that while trying to inspire them, that their writing and authenticity will inspire you even more.
Tip: My middle school students and I would write quotes on the board each day to frame our thoughts and we would talk about them. Here are some quotes I love:
“But when people say, did you always want to be a writer? I have to say no, I was always a writer.” – Ursula Le Guin
“You may not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult
“Writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Isaac Asimov
“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” – Ernest Hemingway
“You can make anything by writing.” – C.S. Lewis
“Writing was not a childhood dream of mine. I do not recall longing to write as a student. I wasn’t sure how to start.” – John Grisham
3. Give writing opportunities outside of academics
A couple of years back, I specifically remember discussing the power of passion writing projects and writing for fun with my students. After class, a few of my students walked up to me and shared that they were already doing this. One student shared that she wrote fiction regularly on an anonymous blog forum (she had thousands of readers, by the way), while another student shared with me that she carried around a writing journal with her everywhere to log ideas, inspirations, and sketches.
I realized in that moment that we often lecture kids about how important these matters are but somehow manage to forget to ask if some are already jumping into it.
Soon after, I asked these students if they could become our writing leaders and coaches for the class. They were delighted to accept. Not only did I learn a significant lesson from them, but through this connection, we were able to gain ideas of how to embed these non-academic writing opportunities into the classroom as well.
4. Ask students what books, blogs, YouTube channels or websites that matter to them
“Prompts require kids to write. Ideas inspire them to write.” – John Spencer
I regularly ask students what they are reading and watching on various platforms to give me an idea of what they are interested in and what excites them. I am always so intrigued to hear what they say. Writing and media formats have changed drastically over the last ten years and they will continue to develop with each passing year. No matter how young or old we are as an educator, we have to remember that our students are growing up in a different world than we did.
This is not a bad thing. We just have to be aware that as relevant and “hip” as we try to be as adults, we can never fully relate to what it is like to be a student today. But, that will not stop us from trying. So, ASK students what matters to them and who influences them. Whether it is a book they love, or who they are following on Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube- These things matter. If we can better understand the voices that matter to students, we can help students share their voice, too.
5. Find ways to differentiate writing
In the last couple of years alone we have seen huge innovations to technology and assistive technology that can make a huge impact for your students. Google Docs has embedded text-to-speech features that allow you to talk into your device while you see the words appear. Some of my students who had difficulties with fine motor skills, or found it tricky to process their thoughts while thinking about what to type, LOVED this text-to-speech feature. Although the technology still has room for advancement and speech variations can make it harder for accuracy, it is still astounding.
To use the feature, go to docs.google.com, and then click the menu option Tools (at the top) and then scroll a little down and click on Voice Typing.
Also, check out this article on other assistive technology ideas by Reading Rockets to give you, even more, ideas you can embed in your classroom.
Important note: Meeting with students about their writing, whether it is individually or in small groups, is a beneficial way to connect with your students and to give them a chance to talk out their work with you. There are many great ways to type comments and give feedback digitally as well, but never lose sight of the power of dialogue in person. In the digital age we live in, make a conscious effort to create personal connections with your students as much as possible.
6. Give students opportunities to share their work with an audience of their choice
With Google Apps for Education, KidBlog.org, and various other digital blogging platforms, children have more opportunities than EVER to share their writing by sharing with classmates, students across the world, families, and educators. I advise you to research and find out which platform would be best for your students. Hashtags like #GAFE and #KidBlog on Twitter are great starting points.
Further, ask your students who they want to share their writing with- We often forget this piece and do not give students a choice. Not all writing pieces need to be shared and some students may not want to post personal pieces. On the other hand, some students can get creative and will want to share their work in varying ways that you did not even think of. Listen to your students.
With all of this considered, when students have an audience, their love for writing grows, along with the meaning behind it. The power of clicking the publish and send buttons are transformational. As soon as they click publish, they begin to see that they do have a voice. Through this, students gain ownership and what they do begins to matter.
Soon after that, students can be a part of the thought provoking conversations and ideas that emerge through sharing with an audience…and that is where the real magic happens.
How do you build a love for writing in your classroom? I would love to hear your thoughts.